Emma Watson and #HeForShe are still trending strongly after her speech at the UN
The essence of #HeForShe seems entirely praiseworthy. Gender equality is everyone's issue. It has to be.
I subscribe to @EverydaySexism on Twitter and am constantly shocked by the abuse that women are routinely forced to endure at the hands of men. It disgusts me and it makes me triply resolved to teach men what real manhood is - not degrading or objectifying women, but honouring them. It seems obvious to me that a woman's greatest hope of liberation and flourishing is for the men in her life to learn self-control - especially sexual self-control - and for those men to empower and bless the women in their lives. In other words it seems obvious to me that the cause of gender equality is advanced precisely where men are taught to be what men are supposed to be - sacrificial, Christ-like servants who will die for their women. Call me naive but I think a return to the Bible is a woman's best hope for equality.
For this reason I take #HeForShe to be a well-intentioned move in the right direction. Of course it's easy to be cynical about the zeitgeistiness of it all - a young, 20-something celebrity calling us to click on the latest website - but we can forgive it that. I think the goal is noble.
But then those goals become completely undermined by a couple of other commitments evident in the speech. At one point she says: "“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals." Hang on a minute. I'm all for opposing gender stereotypes - which Watson does well in the speech - but let's not oppose the distinctness of gender itself.
The irony is that undercutting "he"-ness and "she"-ness with a single spectrum will not turn out well for the cause of women's liberation. If I am positioned on a spectrum according to my personality type, my preferences and my actions, then who will protect "an end of the spectrum" and on what basis? Spectrums get dominated - they always do - and they get dominated by the strong over the weak. Do women really want to abandon the particular protection of a given identity - one which they can proudly claim as "born that way" - and adopt a spot on a sliding scale?
As an example - you could make an argument for abolishing a men's and women's draw at Wimbledon. Why have these 'opposing ideals' - it's a spectrum after all? You could spin this as an argument for equality, couldn't you? "Let every tennis player identify simply as a tennis player and let their tennis speak for itself?" What would happen at Wimbledon? Men would win and women would be utterly squeezed out. The spectrum does not favour those who are weaker physically nor those who have historically been oppressed. The spectrum will only exacerbate inequalities and force the weak to fight a losing battle to be honoured.
The greatest example of this in the speech came at 4:52
I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body
It prompted the first and loudest bout of applause. It was chilling to me to see a talk on equality garnering such enthusiastic support for the oppression of the weak. What a travesty for women to applaud the 'rights' of the strong to eliminate all those little girls, simply because the strong can.
I hope though that we can see how this pro-choice slogan fits perfectly with a 'spectrum' mentality. Richard Dawkins identified the chief problem with the pro-life position as 'The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind'. Dawkins insists that we not think in binary catergories - life or non-life - it's all on a spectrum. The status of the child in the womb is not on an on-off switch but on a dimmer. We must be pragmatic about when we accord the child the right to protection.
In other words, it's a spectrum. With this spectrum it's very obvious that there is a strong end and a weak end but, crucially, it's down to those at the weak end to prove themselves worthy of honour and protection. This is where it heads when we don't have God-given categories like 'life', like 'man', like 'woman.' Without these givens (and hear the word grace in the word 'given') we must earn and prove everything.
"He For She" is a great idea. But it's completely undercut if you make "He" abandon his "He"-ness and "She" abandon her "She"-ness. These have been given to us, not as 'opposing ideals' but as a complementary pairing. We are called, in all our distinctives, to a one-ness of love and mutual respect. #HeForShe works. #SHEEEHEEEESH does not. The spectrum is a spectre - it's the tyranny of the continuous mind.